The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday January 26th


Movie Review: 56 Up

56 Up
4 stars

As heartwarming as it is haunting, “56 Up” documents numerous aspects of life from varying perspectives. With no obvious over-arching theme, the film allows its audience to take away from it whatever it is they desire or need to. As cruel as it is beautiful, life deserves to be documented and analyzed and enjoyed.

The “Up” documentary series began in 1964 with 14 British seven-year-olds. Every seven years since then, the 14 participants’ lives have been revisited, filmed, and published. Directed by Michael Apted, the eighth film in the series, “56 Up,” quickly reflects on each of the 14’s lives thus far and focuses on their present emotions and circumstances at age 56.

Though the project was originally seen, in part, as an examination of the British class system, in “56 Up,” the differences in economic backgrounds among the 12 storylines is visible, but not necessarily the most important aspect of the film. More so, instead, are the reflections on 57 years of life and the self-actualization that seems to come with having lived over half of a century.

The experiences of the 14 are all very different. While some at age seven dreamed of going to Oxford or Cambridge and ended up living out their childhood dreams, others fell short of becoming an astronaut but, instead, had a career as a horse jockey, or a mother or an Anglican canon.

“56 Up” does well at depicting the unpredictability and unfairness of life. An unsettling number of the participants divorced at least once, some dealt with recession-induced economic problems, one continues to battle arthritis and one experienced being homeless and continues to struggle with mental illness.

Noticeable and uplifting, though, is the fact that, at 56, there seems to be a common sense of peace among all the subjects — a peace strangely similar to that of the 12 in their adorable interviews as seven-year-olds. Though life is far from perfect, at 56, there seems to be a feeling of acceptance and a new value of life and of love that was not necessarily present at many of the other seven-year marking spots. While some of the 12 are finding joy in their children’s successes and grandchildren’s births, others discover happiness in charity work, career success and new relationships.

Deeply psychological and philosophical, “56 Up” demands to be thoroughly analyzed by a team of scholars. However, the film is perhaps better suited for showings to general audiences. Since it conveys the life stories of 12 very real humans, it only makes sense for it to be seen by the general masses. Though not everyone will be able to relate to being a librarian on a mobile library, a foster parent, an orphan or a nuclear physicist, everyone will be able to relate to common feelings of joy, despair, loss, excitement, grief, frustration and love. Everyday, we all take part in life; rarely, however, do we purposely stop to reflect and ponder on our lives and the lives of those around us. “56 Up” offers this opportunity and it is a two and a half hour opportunity more than worth taking.

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